An online war room that called the shots

It was the deft handling of the situation by an 'online war room' comprising chief minister Oommen Chandy, Kochi police commissioner M. R. Ajithkumar, and external affairs ministry officials led by a secretary, that helped bring the Italian marines before the law.

The ‘war room’ took up position just as the firing and its aftermath developed into a sensitive diplomatic issue. With the chief minister himself in control, the commissioner was given the liberty by DGP Jacob Punnoose to update the CM and the officials of the external affairs ministry about the developments from ground zero.

Immediately after bringing the tanker, Enrica Lexie, to Kochi port on Thursday, Ajithkumar served a memo to the skipper, asking him and the crew to cooperate with the probe.

The captain refused to cooperate, and questioned the authority of the Indian agencies to probe an incident relating to a foreign vessel. Punnoose, who was in Delhi, faxed his logic to all concerned, including Italian consul-general, that the tanker had fired at an Indian vessel and hence the Indian law was in operation.

As discussions dragged, the police sent an ultimatum on Saturday evening, asking the crew to surrender by the next morning.

On Sunday, the commissioner, getting no response from the ship, decided to board the ship. Once he was on board, he made it clear that he meant business.

Over a stretch of five hours, he recorded the statement by Captain Umberto Vitiello. At one point, the ship crew refused to reveal the names of the assailants, who looked scared to their bones.

When Ajithkumar told them bluntly that he would take all the six armed guards into custody, the rest identified the two marines.

After recording the statements by 2 pm, the commissioner informed MEA officials about the measures that were planned to take the two to the land. However, since a high-level meeting between the foreign officials of India and Italy was on in New Delhi , the commissioner had to wait for a while to get the MEA's 'go ahead'.

Subsequently, the two, Latorre Massimiliano and Salvatore Girone, were offloaded and their arrest recorded.

"The commissioner had made adequate preparations to face any possible attack/resistance from the Italian crew," sources told DC.

All through the protracted negotiations, the Kochi city police gathered crucial evidence against the marines and collected details of the Indian crew on board.

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